Imani, of Festo Didactic High-tech German employer: Combat
worker shortage with business-labor-educator-government partnerships
Civic CaucusFocus on
Adams, David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Paul Gilje, Nader Imani
(phone), Randy Johnson (phone), Sallie Kemper, Dan Loritz, Dana
Schroeder,, and Clarence Shallbetter (phone)
high school diploma no longer is sufficient for the skills required
for most jobs in manufacturing. Moreover, Minnesota and the rest of
the nation face a major shortage in workers qualified for such jobs.
Employers themselves need to play a significant role, but not in
Perhaps taking a cue from countries such as
Germany, employers, labor, educators, trainers, and government should
develop and implement workforce strategies in partnerships with each
Such partnerships would
help to calm some employers' fear that investments in training will
only encourage workers to seek greener pasture. Many individuals
would be more likely to obtain well paying technical jobs if, instead
of aiming for four-year liberal arts degrees, they sought two-year,
post-secondary certificates attesting to their qualifications.
Today's meeting is another in the Civic Caucus follow-up to its
statement several weeks ago on human capital.A
recurring question during our interviews on this topic has been how to
sort out the role of employers, as distinguished from that of
educational institutions and other training organizations, in
providing education and training for the specific job and skill
categories that employers need to fill.
Shortly after we issued our statement on human capital, we learned of
a German robotics firm, Festo AG, that is heavily involved in helping
both experienced and new employees keep their skills up-to-date with
changing workplace technologies. A Wall Street Journal
article recently described Festo's approach. Interested to
determine whether the company's efforts have applicability to
Minnesota's human capital shortage, Civic Caucus has invited Nader
Imani, chief executive of Festo Didactic, the company's stand-alone
education division, to visit with us today.
is head of global education, Festo Didactic, SE,
Denkendorf, Germany. Imani has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from
the University of Nantes, France, where he also spent three years as
an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and organization and
production management. He has 24 years of business experience in
first in sales and later in regional management of international
activities covering education and didactical concepts in industrial
automation, production and manufacturing.
Festo is a leading global supplier of automation technology and
technical education. As an
independent family-controlled company headquartered in Esslingen,
Germany, it has become a leader in its industry over the last 50
years. The company's innovative
problem-solving in all aspects of automation and its unique range of
industrial training and education programs has led to its success.
It currently has 17,000 employees
serving some 300,000 customers worldwide.
Festo Didactic offers high-tech education and training for workers
explained that Festo has two divisions, Festo Automation and Festo
Didactic. The automation division provides services and products that
help manufacturing firms increase productivity through a wide range of
automation solutions. The other division, Festo Didactic, headed by
Imani, offers training services and educational consultancy for
manufacturing companies and also equips educational institutions for
technical training. This division provides training through both open
seminars for employees of many different businesses and custom
in-house training courses and workshops. Festo's focus is on practical
learning with real products and industry-oriented learning systems. A
key focus is on the value of increased productivity.
Every year, Festo Didactic's 820 employees provide training in more
than 30 languages to 42,000 participants in more than 2,900 seminars. Festo
Didactic consults with governments, academic and technical training
institutions and employers. The company will serve as consultant to
any employer or other organization worldwide that is working on
strengthening its skilled workforce. Its learning systems are
primarily geared toward companies with about 1,000 employees or
fewer. Larger employers have enough critical mass to prepare and run
their own training programs, Imani said. These larger employers may
also engage Festo to carry out the ongoing operations of an in-house
Festo has a New
York office where seminars are offered but the company is
open to opportunities across
North America. It
recently purchased another education company that gives it a base in
New Jersey and Quebec. The company's varied learning opportunities
allow global access for businesses operating widespread facilities. Festo
provides an educational video channel called LearningTube that offers
convenient access and "bite-sized" learning for all employees
Responding to a
question, Imani said that Festo frequently contracts with teachers in
technical colleges to lead its seminars and other classes. Fees
charged by Festo for its seminars will vary considerably by country.
For example, the price in Brazil might be $80 to $100 a day, while up
to $600 to $800 a day in Germany or the United States.
Manufacturing is important but facing a shortage of skilled workers. To
illustrate the importance of manufacturing, Imani cited a November
report by the McKinsey Global Institute. That report noted that
manufacturing in 2010 accounted for 16 percent of global GDP,
70 percent of global trade and 45 million advanced economy jobs. A
participant also noted that skill-based manufacturing devises the
technology that drives innovations which in turn create more jobs.
"Manufacturing is increasingly high-tech, from the factory floor to
the back offices where big data experts will be analyzing trillions of
bytes of data from machinery, products in the field and consumers,"
the McKinsey report said. The global supply of high-skill workers
trained initially and continually re-trained in advanced technology
manufacturing equipment and process is not keeping up with demand.
McKinsey projects a potential shortage of more than 40 million
high-skill workers by 2020.
Manufacturing is also changing rapidly from mass production (producing
same product for all) to mass customization (producing unique products
for each customer), which requires considerable skills training, he
of mass customization include 3-D printing, robotics, computer aided
machining, advanced material handling and sorting robotics.
Imani discussed what he called a "magic circle of education for
employability". Strong economic development provides the need for a
meet this challenge the education system must provide the right type
of education, address the emerging technology and ensure quality and
quantity of skilled, employable graduates. Those skilled employees
then make possible continued economic growth, and the cycle repeats.
Manufacturing job demand is concentrated in a few occupations. Imani
cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Boston Consulting Group
estimates that the biggest shortage in manufacturing jobs by 2020 will
be for machinists, welders, industrial machinery mechanics, industrial
engineers, and machine tool operators. He noted that these are not
traditional manufacturing factory-floor workers. These modern
manufacturing employees are using computers, robotics and other
advanced equipment. Festo is "well positioned", he said, to address
most of these training needs, working with its educational and
Businesses and educators partner to provide necessary skills training.
The Festo Education Fund is a network of innovative, successful
companies and committed university professors. Its goals are to
allow students to concentrate on
successfully completing their courses, shortening the time required
for study or research,
provide students with important
vocational skills during their period of study
improve the employability of
participants, facilitating their integration into a company.
Courses are also
for engineers and technicians, but also for all technically oriented
go beyond pure technical content. Such courses include those needed
for business administration studies or an MBA.
Partnerships with technical colleges provide a dual-track approach for
employability and productivity training. Festo
partners with technical colleges and other public educational
institutions in what it calls "FACT"
centers, Festo Authorized and
Certified Training Centers, which emphasize "learning by doing". Festo
develops training schedules which concurrently address both
employability training for students and productivity training for
employees from industry. Adding productivity training for industry
employees allows a school to enrich a curriculum initially designed to
address the employability of inexperienced students.
Regarding this distinction between training for employability and
training for productivity, a participant commented that in the
United State employability training has traditionally been considered
more appropriate for public education systems and productivity
training, for employers.
Festo works with competency and credentialing institutes that issue
certificates to students completing specific requirements in education
To provide a way for people to obtain credentials for particular
skills in demand by industry, Festo will also help design curriculum,
qualify lecturers, and supply equipment to education institutions and
to original equipment manufacturers for in-house training.
Cultural attitudes seem to inhibit interest in vocational-technical
United States. Responding
to a question, Imani cited an unfortunate negative image about the
relative importance of a two-year, job-oriented, technical degree
versus a four-year, liberal arts degree. It's puzzling, he said,
because better job opportunities are available in many cases for the
technically-trained individuals. Early in high school, students need
to know more about technical job opportunities and about opportunities
to take more vocationally-oriented classes. More awareness of what
local employers are seeking is important, he said.
later discussion a participant noted that
Minnesota is fortunate to have a large immigrant population interested
mainly in taking advantage of economic opportunities and less likely
to have any negative attitudes toward one type of education over
another. This lack of cultural bias against the technical job
educational track, may suggest that immigrants could play a
significant role in helping maintain Minnesota reputation for a high
quality labor force.
United States companies have a different attitude about return on
questioner noted that when earnings are under pressure it seems that
one of the first items removed from the budget of a United
States-based employer is its investment in the training and education
of its employees. Imani replied that he sees a difference between
Germany and the United States in the importance of long-term
investment in personnel. For example, in the world-wide recession of
2007-09, Festo hardly laid off any of its employees in its world-wide
Does fear of losing employees prevent employers from investing in
participant noted that some US
employers are reluctant to invest in employee training out of fear
that the employees will take jobs elsewhere soon after receiving the
training. One possible response to that concern, a questioner
suggested, might be that employers enter into a close relationship
with a technical college, by offering scholarships and preferred
hiring, to technical college graduates.
Another participant noted that higher skills in higher demand would be
expected to result in higher wages. If employers train workers for
jobs requiring higher skills it follows that they would also have to
meet the market in wages for those jobs.
Another questioner wondered whether some method might be devised to
make investments in employee training portable and not necessarily
fully paid for by the initial employer Retirement benefits are
increasingly portable as workers move from one employer to another.
What if subsequent employers were partly responsible for training
expenses paid by the earlier employer?
Employers, employee organizations, educators, and government must work
questioner noted that Festo offers its training and consulting
services to employers, employee organizations, educational
institutions, and government. Imani was asked which among those groups
is most important in helping
build stronger workforces.
He replied that designing a good strategy for a trained work force
requires the involvement of all parties.
Employee training has evolved as a viable business segment linking
industry and education. A
participant noted that Festo represents a model of how an established
company can leverage its resources for training of its own employees
to develop a business meeting the needs of others. Being part of an
industrial group with ties to almost all industrial sectors, Imani
pointed out, Festo is closely attuned to current labor market
demand. Traditional education suppliers such as colleges and
universities often are purely focusing on available curriculum with
little interaction with industry, he said.
As a result, college and university programs many times are not
aligned to what the industry is looking for. Because
of this, Imani contends, Festo becomes unique as an industry-based
educator. Due to its firm industrial credentials, Festo is perceived
as a reliable partner to bridge the educational sector with the
industry sector, helping to close a gap that has contributed to the
shortage of skilled manufacturing employees.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman